|The Courier N° 145 - May - June 1994- Dossier : European Union: the Way forward - Country Report: Ethiopia (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)|
Cocteau very wittily said that mirrors would (sometimes) do well to think before reflecting our images. This made us wonder what image of the European Union was reflected by those permanent mirrors of the Community institutions, its accredited journalists. Most of these rep resentatives of the press are from the industrialised world, but the developing countries are well accounted for too and it is to their journalists we turned for what they see as their readers', listeners' and viewers' images of Europe. The resulting kaleidoscope has no claim to being scientific. It is just a reflection in a sometimes faithful, sometimes capricious device called a mirror - which almost never tells us that we are the fairest of them all! We talked to two journalists from African ACPs, one French speaking and one English-speaking, and three from other regions which, like the ACPs, receive European Union aid, the Maghreb, Latin America and the countries cd Central and Eastern Europe.
Ousmane Kaba, a Senegalese journalist, covers the European institutions for Radio Television Tiers-Monde, Africa and Le Soleil and his broadcasts and articles reach most of the French-speaking countries of Africa. The most telling image of the European Union which he has found puts the Lomonvention firmly centre stage.
For the man in the street, the Union is Lomfirst and foremost, and Loms aid and money from Europe. Politicians too are concerned with this aid, but they also worry about technical considerations, such as how much the country gets from the European Development Fund (EDF), eligibility for Stabex and Sysmin and trends in the financial machinery of cooperation. But theirs is a very superficial picture, for although officials are aware of the EDF, very few of them really know how to go about getting its help.
It would be reasonable to think that African businessmen interested in the idea of cooperation were au fait with the machinery of the EDF and the European Investment Bank (EIB), if only because of the loans. But they are appallingly badly informed, Ousmane Kaba says, after seeing the industrial fairs which the Commission has been running in Western Africa since 1974 and Central Africa since 1985. Many of them ask people supposedly in the know - particularly journalists - to help them get loans and other financial assistance from the Convention. They see the Union as a project-financing institution and the important thing is finding the middle-man to get their project to Brussels. They often have no idea that they should be going to the local Union delegation office.
There are two reasons for this. Government officials, themselves ill-informed, may be parsimonious about supplying details or they may be deliberately withholding information as if it were something private. In many cases, the problem starts with the ACP Embassies to the Communities in Burssels, which are responsible for keeping their governments informed. Ousmane Kaba claims that, in the run up to the Lomonvention, the European negotiators are always baffled to find representatives of countries involved in ACP cooperation since Yaoundtill asking questions about such basics as national indicative programmes (the ACP Commission guidelines for the utilisation of Community aid over the period of the Convention) and the procedure for actually obtaining the sums allocated. Proof of this, he says, can be found in the considerable amounts which the EDF does not pay out, not because projects are in short supply, but because the applications are misguided or fanciful.
Most people in the region believe that the Commission is the Union's only institution, so its image is grossly inflated compared to those of the other Community organisations. Of course Commission delegates are the ones they hear on local radio, see on television with the President or a Minister and encounter at cocktail parties. Those who have heard of the European Parliament, for example, have no idea that it is a Community institution and many people have either never heard of the Convention's business service body, the Centre for the Development of Industry (CDI), or do not realise they can have access to it.
The idea of inaccessibility apparently also extends to the Community's image in the ACP countries, hence the desperate search for a go-between to present projects in Brussels. The impression is that the man in the street cannot approach the Commission delegate easily. This, according to Ousmane Kaba, is partly due to the fact that most Commission delegations have little to do with the local press, as their members are very wary of treading on the authorities' toes. A computer specialist or an expert attending, say, a Commission-organised industrial forum has to have a Commission mission order to get in. And people from the host country will only be allowed in if they are to present a 'technical' dossier. They would never manage if they wanted to discuss human rights, which actually figure in the Convention.
Opposition politicians and the best-informed human rights champions have seen the European Parliament as an open institution ever since its committees, particularly the Committee on Development, have been listening to what they have to say. They also have more and more opportunity to put their points of view across to the ACP-EU Joint Assembly, which combines representatives of ACP members of parliament and MEPs.
After Lomid and the larger-than-life image of the Commission, the third thing which people in the African countries described by Ousmane Kaba apparently associate with the European Union is the common market. Their idea of the institutional developments in the Union is more than vague and Brussels based journalists find it extremely difficult to get their editors to accept articles on the subject, which are likely to be labelled complex and of no interest to the reader. Here again, look at the way ACP Ambassadors in Brussels behave. After the Dublin summit, with enlargement of the Union on the agenda, some made no effort to consider what the implications would be for their countries (although other parts of the world were quick to send experts to Brussels to monitor enlargement of the market). And when the dice were cast, a number then complained that Europe had forgotten them. The most striking example was the devaluation of the CFA franc, the subject of conjecture since 1979 yet an apparent surprise to the whole of the ACP political set-up. Economists had never tired of pointing out that the money market and the constraints of the European Monetary System would not allow France to continue trailing this appendage to the French franc for long.
There is a similar kind of timidity and fatalism over the future of the sugar protocol and the banana protocol, at a time when third countries, the Member States of the Union and the Commission have been haggling over every detail of Community imports of these products.
The fatalism of some of the leaders is reflected in the unequivocal interpretation which the general public puts on cooperation, which it sees as just magnanimity or even charity from one partner, the Union, to the other partner, the ACPs, without any idea that the Union might also expect some return in terms of a share in a market, even an ailing one. Kaba relates what an ACP negotiator said during the bargaining before LomV was signed: 'There is no way we cannot sign, because the hand that receives is behind the hand that gives.'
In the French-speaking ACPs, the average man in the street knows that the European Union comprises a number of countries, but he still sees France as being a leader and, when the Commission makes a generous gesture towards the ACPs, he tends to think France has arranged it. Germany is in second place, for bilateral German aid has the reputation of being substantial in quantity and, most important, effective in the field. Bilateral aid tends to be preferred, in any case. In third place is Belgium, predominant in its former colon)=. The effects of the Berlin conference which carved up Africa in Berlin in 1884 are still being felt in ACP-EU relations, our journalist maintains. The other Member States are perceived through a kind of haze, although one of them, Italy, which has gone in for bilateral cooperation on sustainable village projects in Western Africa over the past few years, is beginning to stand out more clearly. Other Italian operations, particularly in Mali and Burkina Faso, include inexpensive rural radio schemes whereby villagers can communicate with people around them, in their own language - an asset with the institutional media working in French and therefore reaching only 10-15% of the population. A European Union communications policy involving national languages and media close to the people would be a great help here.
Lastly, the most positive image of the European Union in these French speaking countries of Africa is one of unity. They all think that the example of already strong countries joining forces to become even stronger is a fine one and regret that, with political will lacking, their own countries fail to combine their weaknesses to become a little less weak. This is the angle which Ousmane Kaba often stresses in order to get the green light from his editors. And it is no coincidence that ECOWAS turned WAMU, its financial institution, into a regional economic body.
View of the EU from the English speaking ACPs of Africa
The image of the European Union reflected by the English-speaking ACPs of Africa, which is even more jumbled and blurred than the previous one, comes to us from our second mirror, Berhane Cahsai, an Eritrean journalist who has been covering Community events for Africa Magazine, New African, Nord Sud Magazine etc. for several years now. His picture of the Union is one of a distant nebula about which neither local press nor government leaders provide any serious information. When working as an adviser to the CDI, Cahsai also made the disappointing finding that many promoters were unaware that the institution even existed, because, he maintains, politicians and diplomats accredited to the EU failed to provide the relevant information. The move to democracy in various countries has brought a spate of new newspapers, but they are usually short-lived and too badly organised to play their proper part vis-is the economic operators (industrialists, tradesmen and farmers) and the public at large.
Berhane Cahsai says that people in English-speaking Africa no longer believe in the official speeches on ACP-EU cooperation and those who apply for Lomid are only being 'pragmatic'. They do not think the aid is efficient either.
He is pessimistic about the work of Brussels-based journalists. The local papers lack professional resources and the foreign newspapers he writes for are too expensive. The readership is ridiculously small. And the audio-visual media have not always got things up to date either.
The general public despairs, with the painful feeling that the rest of the world has forgotten Africa and Europe's only interest is the other Europe. Some even think that Loms coming to the end of the road.
The view from the Maghreb - economically closer, politically apart
Fathi B'chir, a Tunisian self-employed journalist who writes for, inter alia, Marches Tropicaux, Agence Tunisienne de Presse and the European agency specialising in Community news, believes that his audience is as well informed about Europe as the citizens of the Union themselves. This is because the Maghreb and Europe are in an economic continuum and European professional organisations have already integrated North Africa into their production area - numerous textiles and clothing firms have moved there, for example - and there is a keener interest in economic relations with the European Union. Politically, people have kept their distance. More and more object to European policy and are particularly bitter about the Gulf War, although they were enthusiastic about Europe's attitude to the Middle East only a short time ago. The image of the European Union is not negative. It is famished with despondency. People are disappointed that the European Union is, they think, lining up with American policy, despite its economic strength, or suggesting no alternatives for Bosnia or anywhere else. In this respect, however, Fathi B'chir says that the image in the Maghreb is more flattering than the image in Europe.
The prize for the best-known Member State again goes to France, but, thanks to its drive as a business partner, Belgium is beginning to break through, as is Spain, with its investments in food and agriculture, a key sector of the North African economy. Portugal too is fairly well known. But that is the end of it. The more northerly parts of the Community are uncharted territory.
Libya apart, the Maghreb sees Europe as a trade outlet and a tourist and intellectual booster, although with some variations. What the Europeans took as a quaint application by Morocco to join the European Union, the Moroccans saw as their country's way of forcing their European partners into a debate on relations between the Maghreb and the Union. Progressive Algerians think that some Member States are too easy on extremists who sometimes take refuge there, while the extremists condemn the progressives for enjoying Europe's friendship.
One subject of particular interest to the man in the street and much emphasised by journalists is the European Union and GATT. There is a real fear that the Union will increasingly abandon its privileged trade relations with the Maghreb. The reform of the common agricultural policy has cut a swathe through the preferences of this part of the world and North Africans fear that a combination of the Single Market, the Treaty of Maastricht and GATT will put paid to them altogether.
The next big thing after trade relations is immigration. There is a query over the situation of even properly registered North Africans in the Union, whose movement is already restricted - something which the Commission has in fact condemned. Also in the public eye are the Community's policies for the Middle East and Bosnia.
There is little interest in enlargement for the time being. One or two people think it can only lead Europe to drift towards more distant areas, without realising that these places could also be an outlet for agricultural produce such as tomatoes and olive oil, Fathi B'chir says.
For all its peoples, the big threat to the Maghreb is that European Union aid will be diverted to the countries of Eastern Europe, although worries on this score are waning now Europe has proved that it does not intend to abandon the region and economists have demonstrated that the markets in Eastern Europe were not the great attraction it was once feared. Fathi B'chir says that the real threat to Maghreb Europe trade is in fact China, but people are not yet aware of the fact and it is essential to put them in the picture - although without too much waving of the red flag, which would encourage more protectionism.
In the Maghreb too, unity is seen as the European Union's greatest asset and everyone dreams of their own region building as tightly-knit a unit one day.
The view from Latin America - Beauty and the Beast
Claudia Camarena, a Mexican, works for Televisa News, whose programmes are broadcast by most Latin American TV channels, for Mexico's Radio Universidad and for BRT, Belgium's Flemish radio and TV station. She says that, in comparison with other areas which she visits and reports on regularly, Latin America is fairly well informed about the European Union, although the degree to which this is so varies from one section of the population to another and from one country and one region of the subcontinent to another. The old idea that there is not just one Latin America applies even more to attitudes to the European Union. Ms Camarena says that there is a difference between the five southern countries (Argentine, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil), where the European Union is both the leading customer and the leading supplier, and Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Andean countries, where the United States dominates. The general public in this region sees the negative side - subsidies for the Union's farmers, which they feel distort the market and penalise Latin American producers: in short, an image of Europe as the 'big bad wolf' which eats up all the world markets. In Chile, for example, everyone has his own idea about the duties and quota reductions applied to imports of apples and fish into the Union, grumbling about 'European protectionism' all day long. People in heavily industrialised Brazil react in much the same way on industrial products, but blame the USA and Japan as well as the Union.
Central America is the region which has derived most from cooperation with Europe in terms of per capita development aid. At the time of the East-West confrontation, it saw the European Union as the third avenue, praising it highly for its political clear-sightedness and its speedy appraisal of the regional conflict as one which stemmed from a lack of development rather than from any Soviet attempt to attack the soft underbelly of its global rival. So Europe's image was a glittering one. But cracks have subsequently appeared. With peace restored in most places, the Central American countries felt that development aid was no longer what they wanted and that their real need was for markets to develop their industries and move towards integrated development. The banana import quota issue drove a large section of public opinion into the anti-Union camp, which claimed that Europe was protectionist. .
Mexico, now part of NAFTA, alongside the USA and Canada, keeps a watchful eye on the process of European integration, which has enabled countries in the southern part of the continent to take great strides towards the level of development of those further north. NAFTA is not a union, but Mexico would like to see it develop along EU lines, with things like Europe's structural funds for regions which are lagging behind in their development or faced with particular problems. All this probably makes Mexico an exception. The middle and lower classes and customers in taxis and hairdressers, who tune into popular radio stations, regularly hear broadcasts on the European Union and Mexico has a more subtle image of the Union, one of creation in progress, than other countries. The members of MERCOSUR, the southern South American common market, are also looking to the example of the European Union.
There are considerable differences among the Andean countries. Bolivia, the poorest country of the sub-continent, gets development aid from the European Union. Colombia, which is fairly developed, is in a similar situation to Chile as far as trade relations are concerned, but it enjoys industrial and agricultural cooperation with the Union, alongside Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, and gets helps with its anti drug campaign. The man in the street sees the European Union as the institution which backs his country in the campaign against narcotics. But Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador are also involved in the banana dispute which is causing so much bad feeling about the Union. The Peruvians make a lot of the political attitudes towards them and portray the Union as a scold, grumbling about everything - the Fujimori coup d'etat, human rights violations etc. - and behaving as the supreme judge.
In most countries in Latin America, news about the European Union does not just come from the press. A great deal of information comes through regular lectures and conferences set up by the universities, many of which have Institutes of European Studies dedicated to the European Union.
Contrary to expectations, perhaps, Spain is not in the forefront of the Latin American picture of Europe and its links with Latin America are thought to have loosened since it joined the Union. However, all the southern countries have had strong ties with other European countries in the past (there are more descendants of Italians than of Spaniards in Argentina) and they feel that their beloved 'Mother Europe' has neglected them for, inter alia, the countries of Eastern Europe. Politically, people in the region have the impression that the EU has got closer to the American standpoint since the end of the Cold War. But it is not an attitude which they necessarily condemn, except in relation to Cuba, where they would have preferred to see a more comprehensive approach. There is more to it than condemning the American blockade, which they interpret as no more than defending European economic interests.
Central Europe - a tepid reunion
Jacek Safuta has been The Polish Press Agency's accredited journalist to Brussels for two years now and he also works for Polish radio and television. We thought it would be useful to find out how the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are reacting to traditional EU partners' complaints that they are now cornering aid which others used to have. Poland, the first country to come out of the Eastern bloc and embark on cooperation with the European Union, is perhaps the best example. The Poles do not even understand what is going on, Jacek Safuta maintains, and the over-riding feeling is one of disappointment. In 1989, they thought that they could join the EU quickly and have the difference in standard of living ironed out by massive amounts of aid from a West grateful for the overthrowing of the Soviet bloc. They see EU aid almost as a debt. They may admit that Europe has one or two obligations towards its former colonies in Africa, but countries in other parts of the world just have to manage. So the aid they do receive is deemed to be totally inadequate. The PHARE programme of EU aid to Central and Eastern Europe was much appreciated in the early days, but now it comes in for more and more criticism. There are accusations of red tape delaying payments excessively and of priority being given to paying Western European consultants. The long-awaited EU-Poland association agreement was ratified too late, they claim, and they do not like their trade deficit with Europe either, despite the surge in Polish exports.
The Union is seen as a private club for rich men, an efficient association which furthers their interests and which it would be unwise not to join. Indeed, there is a feeling that membership should be taken out as soon as possible, to escape the effects of EU 'protectionism'. An oft-quoted 'example' of this is the EU's cattle controls, which are designed to ward off an epidemic of foot and mouth disease which has apparently broken out in Poland. However, it is the Polish farmers, 30% of the population, who are most unenthusiastic about immediate accession to the EU. They believe that the country needs to stick to its values and consolidate for a good 10 years before coming face to face with other partners in a strictly regulated organisation.
Although the Poles feel concerned by EU decisions, Jacek Safuta maintains that they are not very interested in news of the Union, unless their country is directly involved. He has no problems with articles he writes for the Agency, but the press in general seems keener on stories which either concern the country closely or which have a sensational quality - something which is quite untypical of Poland.
This is the image which all the journalists reflected, to one degree or another. Perhaps there is always a self portrait behind an image of someone else.